When describing what sold items return at the Yovel year, the Torah brings the following exception about Levite cities: “But the unenclosed land around their cities cannot be sold, for that is their holding for all time” (25:34). What land is this, and why is it any different than their houses, which can be sold and changed (at least until the Jubilee year)? To understand this, we have to look ahead in the Torah, when it details the urban planning of Levite cities: “you shall also assign to the Levites pasture land around their towns” (Bamidbar 35:2)”, which Rashi explains to be an area intended to beautify the city, which prohibits the building of anything on the land. This is the area mentioned in our Parsha, which cannot be sold, or even changed into something else. It must remain an open area, surrounding the Levite cities. But why? What is so special about this area?
One possible meaning, based on Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch’s commentary in this week’s Parsha, shows us that its purpose has less to do with the land itself, and more to do with the city inside of it. When Hashem imagined and dictated the planning of cities (Some: only Levite cities, Others: All Israeli cities), His vision was to create close-knit communities. The open land surrounding the city ensured that there would be no “urban sprawl”- large communities that become so fragmented that one side becomes foreign to the other. Therefore, these surrounding open areas can’t be changed, because it would diminish the unity it promotes- not because of the open space, but because that space keeps the city at its limits.
The Jewish people are meant to be together- not only geographically, but personally. The intimacy of relationships is becoming more and more difficult to develop as our means of communication become less and less personal. While we don’t necessarily have the same urban planning requirements today (as we live without the Beit HaMikdash or our ideal sovereignty), the Torah is reminding us to stay close. We should maintain a certain “proximity” within our relationships, each on its own level: Smile at your neighbor instead of ignoring them; calling a friend instead of texting them; looking face to face with whom you converse, instead of at a device or the surroundings. While technological convenience keeps us further apart, let us remember that our relationships are meant to keep us closer together.